Hanson replies to criticisms of Ltc. Bateman
by Victor Davis Hanson
I suppose “devil” is not as bad as “pervert” or “feces”
Here is the response to more from LTC Bateman. My replies are again in bold print.
There is no need to reply to Mr. Alterman’s charge of McCarthyism, since the entire point of using his Media Matters website to attack Carnage and Cultureseems political — a sort of surrogate effort to distract from my political commentary that is sometimes deemed too critical to the doctrinaire liberal agenda.
In any case, a simple internet search will reveal an extensive literature of tens of thousand of accounts, detailing the funding of Media Matters, which drew or draws on monies from Soros-funded organizations, but apparently argues that such third-party funneling is not “direct,” and, in Orwellian fashion, therefore de facto not really funding from Soros. The reader can survey these investigations, weight them against Media Matters’ passionate defenses — and come to his own conclusions.
I never understood the connection between a presumably egalitarian Left and an international speculator who found riches by betting on (and sometimes contributing to) wide currency swings, causing a great deal of losses and hurt in 1992 to the Bank of England and its depositors, and who was fined by a French court for insider trading. This is hyper-capitalism of the most cutthroat kind, a practice enriching an individual at the expense of the many. Given the moral pretensions of many on the Left, it would seem an unlikely source of subsidies.
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Media Matters for America
Altercation by Eric Alterman
Mon, Oct 29, 2007
Bateman on Hanson, Round 1: Cannae, 2 August 216 B.C.
It may be moderately obscene, I admit, but I have always enjoyed teaching students about this battle. At the tactical level, it is the story of a force, outnumbered and fighting far from their base, defeating another force almost twice their size and doing so in such a decisive manner as to stun the world and be passed down for more than 2,000 years. At the operational level of war, competing philosophies of conflict are at play. Finally, at the strategic level of war, there is a lesson to be learned about the strategic vision of one leader, and the inability of another to grasp more than what happens on the battlefield. In short, the story of Cannae is complex and a challenge to teach.
Rather than rail overmuch here at the outset, however, I prefer to allow Mr. Hanson to light his own petard. Hanson’s basic contention is that face-to-face infantry battle is a cultural legacy exclusive to the “West.” In Carnage and Culture, he sets out to demonstrate this by resurrecting the hoary old 19th-century model of “Decisive Battles” and claiming that the study of battle is the One True Way. Here is how he lays out the reason for his focus upon individual battles:
In an analysis of culture and conflict why should we concentrate on a few hours of battle and the fighting experience of the average soldier — and not the epic sweeps of wars, with their cargo of grand strategy, tactical maneuver, and vast theater operations that so much better lend themselves to careful social and cultural exegesis? Military history must never stray from the tragic story of killing, which is ultimately found only in battle. (pg. 7)
[Despite the now familiar rhetoric and braggadocio — thankfully this time I am merely to be called a “devil” rather than a “pervert” or my work “feces” — this entire argument is sadly misguided. I apologize to the reader in replying to the serial misrepresentations in what inevitably will become tedious fashion.
First, Bateman quotes from an introductory section that is called “War as Culture”. There I argued against euphemism in military history and other historigraphical approaches that sometimes neglect the violence and tragedy of organized killing.
The point here at the beginning, then, is not emphasis on pitched battle per se, in contrast to other manifestations of war — that is one of the nine themes of the book and soon discussed at length in Chapter Three on Gaugamela — but rather the approach of the military historian who sometimes fails to describe the experience of everyday soldiers by instead focusing exclusively on “grand strategy, tactical maneuver, and vast theater operations.”
I am not arguing here for an either/or methodology, only recognition that wars ultimately are about individuals who must do the killing and dying in battle and their experience should be included in any military narrative. Battle, of course, is used here in the introduction in the generic sense of fighting per se, not as a particular kind of battle.
These quotes are part of a discussion about the unusual format of the book, which begins each chapter by describing fighting and killing in mediis rebus, and then tries to discuss the larger undercurrents that might explain why these thousands died and why thousands of others did not.
Again, the entire point here is the focus of the military historian; it is not an argument here over something Bateman calls The One True Way — a silly term of course I never used.]
There is an inherent truth in battle. It is hard to disguise the verdict of the battlefield, and nearly impossible to explain away the dead, or to suggest that abject defeat is somehow victory.
[Again, apologies to those who are already bored, Bateman does not understand the very quotation he reproduces: I am not concerned in this particular discussion from which the quote derives with pitched battle versus other types of battling, but the battlefield — i.e. the landscape where people are killed — as an arena of men trying to kill each other, and the lessons that can arise from such an elemental experience.]
Just a short while later Hanson rams home the point … again:
We owe it to the dead to discover at all costs how the practice of government, science, law, and religion instantaneously determines the fate of thousands on the battlefield — and why. (pg. 8)
[The more Bateman quotes, the more oblivious he seems to appear. Again, he seems to believe that here in this introductory discussion of the book’s historiographical approach that this sense of “battle” means a particular type of battle, at the expense of other methods of fighting, rather than the generic human experience of killing within wars. That’s why sometimes [see below] in this discussion here I used the term “war” interchangeably.]
A few lines later he repeats himself, and at this point you are starting to think, “Hmmmm, maybe he’s serious about this focus on battle as being what matters thing”:
War is ultimately killing. Its story becomes absurd when the wages of death are ignored by the historian. (pg. 8)
In case you weren’t listening, he keeps up the same drumbeat throughout the book.
Hanson is saying that the study of battle provides the evidence to support his main idea.
[The use of “Hmmmmm,” like “rail” and “drumbeat,” I think, is again revealing. It is hard to continue with this reply, because something seems wrong with Bateman’s ability to read and comprehend language, as in his first critique last week: My sentences, “War is ultimately killing. Its story becomes absurd when the wages of death are ignored by the historian” pace Bateman, do not mean, “Hanson is saying that the study of battle provides the evidence to support his main idea.”
Instead, as pointed out above, it emphasizes the moral responsibilities of the historian. One can agree or disagree with that argument, but it is not an argument at this particular place in the text that only decisive battle captures the essence of war.]
Hanson outlines his overall thesis in a section subheaded “The Singularity of Western Military Culture.” In that section Hanson puts it this way:
All armies engage in mass confrontations at times; few prefer to do so in horrendous collisions of shock and eschew fighting at a distance or through stealth when there is at least the opportunity for decisive battle …
Foot soldiers are common in every culture, but infantrymen, fighting en masse, who take and hold ground and fight face-to-face, are a uniquely Western specialty … (pg. 445)
In other words, only Western armies seek out shock battle and short, sharp, hard fights. Others try to avoid battles, using movement, misdirection, deception, and other stratagems so as not to fight.
[Again, there is evident an inability to analyze the very quote produced: Bateman quotes me, “all armies engage in mass confrontations at times” and then “Foot soldiers are common in every culture” — but then concludes that means [his words, not mine] that “others try to avoid battles.” That’s contradictory and not what I wrote and discussed at length in Chapter Three.
Instead, these quotes, and this section of the book at large, point out that all cultures at times send soldiers to meet each other en masse, but there is a cultural preference in the West to prefer decisive, shock battle whenever possible and feasible.
Note that each of the nine chapters highlights a particular aspect of the Western military tradition. Gaugamela, the third chapter, dealt at length with decisive battle, but is inexplicably omitted in a Bateman’s exclusive focus here on the Western preference for decisive battle.
There, however, I outlined an extensive Hellenic vocabulary for pitched battle, noted a variety of quotations from early thinkers about the primacy of the set piece, traced its ethnical and practical origins, and noted both the Western deprecation for other types of fighting, and why and how sometimes this chauvinism proved dangerous, and how this legacy has limitations in an age of nuclear power, and ubiquitous deadly Westernized technology.
The reader is urged to turn to Chapter Three, rather than have me rehash the evidence and arguments here that are conveniently ignored by Bateman—who also skips entirely the theme of constitutional government in the chapter on Cannae under discussion.
That said, Cannae reflects, of course, like the other battles I discuss, this multifaceted Western military tradition, which in part includes a tendency to favor decisive battles.
But the point is not that Westerners always sought or won in decisive battle (in some cases, numbers, terrain, and logistics made both impossible) or that their enemies always avoided set pieces, but rather there was an idealization in the West of pitched battle, a tendency to favor it, and a deprecation — sometimes foolishly so — of other manifestations of war, whether terrorism, missile fighting, or hit-and-run wars of attrition.
We can see the occasional liabilities of those assumptions from the Athenian experience in Aitolia to our own in Iraq.]
But there is one big problem with that thesis: One of the most famous battles in all of history runs 180 degrees against Mr. Hanson’s thesis. It is a battle so famous that Hanson cannot ignore it or pretend that it didn’t happen, as he does with many other battles (which we will see in later weeks). But more than that, it was not just one battle, but a whole string of battles, all of which ran counter to his idea that the cultural legacy of the “West” generates an inclination for head-on battles, and that inclination leads to victory. Even worse, what eventually led to an overall victory for the Roman (“Western”) side in the war was not battle, but actually the active avoidance of battle! Those last two points, however, Hanson has concealed.
[Bateman does not seem to grasp the very essence of the Second Punic War. Rome in the first few years predictably tried to win it outright in a series of pitched battles. When they failed due to the rare genius of Hannibal, they opted for a short while to delay further set encounters until their legions were replenished and commanders experienced with Hannibal’s warfare. But not long after, decisive battles resumed all over the Western Mediterranean [see below], and the Punic War was won not by avoiding battle, but finally by crushing Carthaginian armies in horrific set battles in Italy, Spain, and North Africa.
I selected Cannae as one of nine battles, so I hardly tried to ignore or conceal anything about the battle. Note again, Bateman simply does not understand the arguments of Carnage and Culture. He writes “But more than that, it was not just one battle, but a whole string of battles, all of which ran counter to his idea that the cultural legacy of the “West” generates an inclination for head-on battles, and that inclination leads to victory.”
I don’t know how “a whole series of battles” runs counter to the idea of “an inclination for head-on battles.”
Moreover, the “idea” or “basic contention” or “thesis” of Carnage and Culture is, again, not just head-on battle, but a menu of cultural practices highlighted in each of the nine chapters.
In the case of Cannae, the emphasis was on civic militarism, in Tenochtitlan on Western rationalism and technology. Other chapters dealt with western notions of discipline, dissent and open critique, and individualism, and so on. Each chapter, of course, reflects the entire western military tradition, but the full argument of each element is focused and discussed at length in particular chapters.
If Bateman wishes to challenge my argument about this one element of the lethal Western tradition, he might have much more easily discussed the chapter in which the argument is laid out in its fullest extent; or, contrarily, if he wished to focus on Cannae he could accept or reject the expressed theme there of the value of constitutional government.
The central argument of that chapter was not the primacy of shock battle — more on that below — but rather how Roman republicanism was able to galvanize to recreate legions after terrible losses, and transmit a sense of civic involvement to a large segment of the population.
That was not just my conclusion, but that of Greek historian Polybius as well: “For although the Romans had clearly been defeated in the field, and their reputation in arms ruined, yet because of the singularity of their constitution, and by wisdom of their deliberative counsel, they had not only reclaimed the sovereignty of Italy, and went on to conquer the Carthaginians, but in just a few years themselves became the ruler of the entire world.”]
The short version of what happened in the Punic Wars runs something like this: Rome and a North African city called Carthage fought a series of wars that spanned almost 120 years. During the second war, a Carthaginian leader named Hannibal marched his army from Spain, across what is now the south of France, over the Alps, and into Italy. During those marches he confronted small Roman detachments and Roman allies. He beat them all. Then, once he invaded the Roman homeland, he defeated several Roman armies in a row.
In the first major battle, Hannibal and his army directly confronted an equally sized Roman army and wiped out about 20,000 of perhaps 36,000 Romans on the field. In the next battle, he again offered direct combat with his army, again on equal terms, and in that battle his army killed 30,000 Romans while capturing the remaining 10,000. So, in two battles, Hannibal’s non-Western army killed or captured something like 60,000 out of almost 80,000 Romans sent against them, while barely losing any of their own strength. Hanson, of course, never talks about these numbers or battles in any detail. He grants them light, one-sentence asides and concessions, but generally brushes past their meaning. With the addition of Cannae, these three fights are examples that run counter to Hanson’s thesis. One battle might have been an exception to the rule. But when the historical record shows battle after battle where the “Western” way of war is shown up, on home turf, when the Westerners outnumbered the enemy, the thesis begins to lose air. Hanson, however, brushes this aside by admitting that Cannae “was not a fluke.” But he does so in just one sentence.
[This is completely disingenuous. The chapter, of course, mentions fatality numbers — cf. pp. 104, 110. Here is what I actually wrote: “From the time of his descent from the Alps in October 218 to the slaughter at Cannae on August 2, 216 BC., Hannibal had killed or captured in battle somewhere between 80,000 and 100,000 legionnaires, along with hundreds of the senatorial and knightly classes, including two consuls at the head of their armies and numerous ex-consuls in the ranks. In the space of twenty-four months a third of Rome’s frontline troops of more than a third of a million men of military age were to be killed, wounded, or capture in the bloodbaths at Ticinus, Trebia, Trasimene, and Cannae. Cannae, then, was no fluke.”
The Roman preference for decisive battle was apparent from the start — and reveals itself even when terrain and poor generalship might have suggested that it would be unwise at Ticinus, Trebia, and Trasimene.
Livy and Polybius note the impetuousness of inexperienced Roman generals to insist on a decisive battle even when others saw that it was unwise to tangle with this particular genius, especially when he was isolated in a foreign territory with tenuous lines of support.
Again, inspired and brilliant Fabian tactics were considered unfortunately cowardly and unromantic, precisely because they were antithetical to a long tradition of preference for finding the enemy and destroying him in pitched battle as quickly as possible.
The texts of Livy and Polybius emphasize again and again the natural Roman repugnance — and popular outrage — toward Fabian tactics, and eventually the wisdom of the Roman Senate in checking for a while these well-known but now dangerous impulses until the fresh legions were experienced and new Roman commanders schooled enough to return to, and defeat the Carthaginians in pitched battle — which of course they eventually did.
Hannibal was a rare military genius, won several set pitched battles, but could not defeat a system that eventually trumped his innate talents and so crushed him — in a set battle. Bateman doesn’t seem to understand that victors in war often lose battles in the process.]
But back to the narrative: Finally, the series of pitched battles culminated in the absolute destruction of the largest Roman army yet thrown against the Carthaginians. Out of an estimated 70,000 Roman legionnaires who arrived in the vicinity of the battlefield at a place called Cannae, Hannibal’s army killed about 50,000 of them in a few hours. The Carthaginians did this by pretending to pull back in the middle of their line, until they sucked the Roman army into a three-sided trap, which their cavalry then closed from behind. It was the definition of a historic battle, but the really interesting stuff came later. More on that in a moment.
[Again, “the series of pitched battles” and Cannae itself were possible only because, despite poor generalship, Rome commanders insisted on fighting Hannibal in such decisive encounters, eventually learned from them, and then used that very experience to win the war by victories in pitched battles.]
Now, to give the devil his due, Hanson’s description of the battle that occurred in 216 B.C. is generally accurate, in the broadest outlines. He does go pretty far, however, in trying to twist the language around to suit his needs. So, while he takes no liberties with the specifics of what happened on that day, he is tricky with his use of language. Hanson tries to minimize the impact of the horrific Roman defeat at Cannae by making it seem like the actual size of the massive Roman army did not matter. Instead, he suggests, the Romans that lost there were effectively the second-stringers.
[I never wrote they were second-stringers, and emphasized Hannibal’s genius, and inept Roman leadership, as accounting for the victory. And yes, after tens of thousands of dead in three prior pitched battles, the legions of the young republic were already, prior to Cannae, becoming attenuated, and Rome conscripted old men, youths and slaves.]
For example, he mentions, how at Cannae the African troops in the Carthaginian army were “veterans.” Then he conversely describes many of the 70,000 Romans as, “adolescents who filled the Romans ranks, depleted by the thousands butchered earlier at Ticinus and Lake Trasimene” (pg. 101). In another part of the text, while Hanson says that Hannibal “arrayed 10,000 skilled horsemen,” he goes on to describe the opposing Roman cavalry as “6,000 poorly trained mounted Italians.” (pg. 102) Now, the problem with that is that the sources do not describe the Roman cavalry as “poorly trained.” It is true that the Romans generally did not have the best cavalry. But in this specific case, Hanson is just making an assertion. He does this because it fits his thesis. He does not know what training the Roman cavalry had, any more than he knows how many “adolescents” were in the Roman army that day. The historical record is, effectively, silent on those specific points. In other words, Hanson is merely guessing, but writing his guesses in such a way as to make them appear authoritative.
[It was not my judgment, but that of ancient historians that Roman cavalry was traditionally underappreciated, and thus weak and neglected, in general and here in the Punic War, as the first battle at Ticinus proved. Livy explicitly concluded of that battle that the Carthaginians were clearly superior in cavalry. Roman historians at all times lamented the need for foreign auxiliaries, particularly African and Gallic cavalry. The need not merely to draft slaves, but to find able-bodies legionaries at all costs was a reaction to the limited manpower reserves of the republic, that between 219-216 perhaps lost close to 100,000 soldiers in battle, and thousands as well to wounds or illness.]
But all of this is small fry compared to his greatest offenses.
How, one might be asking themselves at this point, can Hanson defend his thesis of the supremacy of the Western Way of War given the facts of these battles? How can he continue to assert that the West is supreme in infantry shock battle, when all major Roman battles of the Second Punic War mentioned in this chapter show the Romans being beaten in direct head-to-head shock battle by non-Westerners? Well, the answer is moderately simple. Hanson tries to save his thesis by saying something like, “Uh, battle matters … except when it doesn’t.” In fact, this is what he says.
[I don’t say “something like” at all. The historical record from our sources, not I, provides the proper context: the Romans wished to fight in pitched battle repeatedly, even when they lacked the leadership to match Hannibal. That they attempted to do so frequently, and eventually succeeded reflects their commitment to decisive battle and eventual success with it.
Second, as mentioned in the text, Hannibal himself, drew many of his ideas and much of knowledge of war likewise from an Hellenic tradition, in which Greek thinkers and generals offered their expertise during and after the First Punic War to help thwart Rome, hence Hannibal’s own desire to meet the Romans often in decisive engagements.
The chapter on Cannae argues that the institution of civic militarism and constitutional government were advantages that kept the Roman military viable and able to reconstitute the legions, learn from the prior mistakes and eventually destroy the Carthaginians — in a number of pitched battles well before the finale at Zama. (More below.)]
Cannae, like so many of these landmark battles, is the exception that proves the rule: even when Roman armies were poorly led, foolishly arranged, squabbling before battle over the proper deployment, and arrayed against a rare genius, the catastrophic outcome was not fatal to their conduct of the war. (pg. 105)
What is remarkable about Cannae is not that thousands of Romans were so easily massacred in battle, but that they were massacred to such little strategic effect. (pg. 111)
Students of war must never be content to learn merely how men fight a battle, but must always ask why soldiers fight as they do, and what ultimately their battle is for. (pg. 131)
So, you see, despite Hanson having written over and over again that battle is what matters, when confronted with irrefutable historical evidence contrary to his thesis that the “West” is supreme in infantry-centric shock battles, Hanson becomes a flip-flopper. In these quotes above he is saying, because he must, that it actually does not matter who wins the battle!
[Bateman seems to think either that successful armies never lose battles, or that Rome lost the Punic War, or that it won it without defeating Carthage in a variety of brutal set battles!
So what Bateman has done is this: he confuses the introductory comments about writing about the battle experience of soldiers and the need to appreciate their sacrifice with an argument about decisive battle; next, he omits the arguments adduced in a chapter-length (on Gaugamela) explication of why Westerners preferred decisive battle; then, he chooses to critique decisive battle by reviewing a chapter on the advantages of civic militarism and constitutional government, and yet after all that still demonstrates the opposite of what he desires:
The Second Punic War was won by decisive battle, in which Roman legions, after learning critical lessons from their initial mistakes in generalship and tactics, crushed Hannibal and his armies at Zama.
The chapter noted that when Romans were inexperienced with Carthaginian infantry tactics, were unaware of the tactical brilliance of Hannibal (who drew on an earlier Hellenic military tradition of pike men and shock), and were plagued by Italian dissension, they nevertheless preferred decisive battle, which initially led them to both mistakes and critical knowledge from those errors.
Note especially — ignored by Bateman — that I mention the phenomenon of westernization (see the section “Carthage and the West”), as in the case of Midway. The Spartan Xanthippus had introduced Western ideas of infantry during the First Punic War. Greeks like Sosylus accompanied Hannibal and reflected a transmission of Greek thinking to Carthage, from military thought to agriculture practice — and likewise helps to explain why Hannibal himself sought to engage Romans directly, at times with spearmen in battles of shock, at times even when it was wiser not to.]
But what about what happened afterward? If what really matters, according to this new Hanson formulation, is the bigger picture, then what happened next? What happened after the Romans were crushed, for a third time, on their home turf? Hanson writes:
Marcus Junius was appointed dictator, with formal directives to raise armies in any manner possible. He did so magnificently. More than 20,000 were recruited into four new legions. Some legionaries were not yet seventeen. Eight thousand slaves were purchased at public expense and given arms, with a proviso that courage in battle might lead to freedom. Junius himself freed 6,000 prisoners and took direct command of this novel legion of felons. (pg. 127)
Huh? Wait a second. In an earlier passage Hanson wrote, “Western armies often fought with and for a sense of legal freedom.” (pg. 21) This, in fact, was a foundation to his hypothetical motivation for the Western soldiers. According to Hanson, it was because of their freedoms that men in the West fought so hard and so well in infantry shock battles.
[This is, I am afraid, adolescent and becoming rather embarrassing. I discussed the ancient concept of freedom in an entire chapter on Salamis, noting carefully that it was an evolving idea, and is to be understood in the context of the general morality of the times. Bateman perhaps by extension would argue that the Founding Fathers did not bequeath constitutionally protect freedom to Americans, some of whom who held slaves, because it was still an imperfect and not fully evolved idea.
Bateman’s is one of the oldest and most puerile of politically-correct critiques of the West — the idea that the absence of perfection means that a noble institution at its inception was therefore not good, or at least perhaps hypocritical.
In fact, Roman citizens enjoyed a freedom unknown in Carthage or anywhere outside the Roman and Hellenic world. But as true everywhere else, they also owned slaves. But that age-old ubiquitous practice was under appraisal, and subject to occasional criticism as was not true elsewhere.
Again, the discussion of “freedom” and slavery in the first chapter of the book and the apparent paradox of free citizens having slaves, is completely ignored by Bateman, who seems unaware of a long ancient and modem discussion of slavery and its contradictory association with free citizens.
Cf. 50-51, where the argument mentions the secondary status of women, slaves, and non-citizen in the Greek and Roman worlds. It then points out this was true of all other cultures of the ancient world (and many today as well), but what was unique in the West was that there was also an accompanying idea of a free male citizen, and this not only gave rights and responsibility to millions in a way not found elsewhere, but more importantly soon become an evolving concept that was expansive and grew ever more inclusive over a 2500-year tradition.
Or as I wrote, “Freedom is an evolving idea, a miraculous and dangerous concept has no logical restrictions on its ultimate development once it is hatched.”]
Yet here, of 20,000 new troops Hanson is lauding the Romans for raising in the wake of the disaster at Cannae, a full 14,000 of them are either slaves or prisoners. (And I thought our recruiting difficulties in the U.S. Army were rough.) How can one be a slave and at the same time fight due to a sense of one’s civic responsibility to the Roman state? This is an especially difficult question since most Roman slaves were from foreign sources in the first place, and so would have had no allegiance to Rome.
[The point is obvious: it was precisely because Roman citizenship was prized, especially the protection of Roman law accorded to free citizens, that made it so attractive to slaves, foreign born or not, to risk dying in battle to get it.]
But the legions were raised, and by the end of the chapter Hanson’s logic has become so twisted around that this fact, not the facts of what happened in the battle, is what Hanson contends matters. But then what did the Romans do with those legions? Perhaps this line might help. (Primer: Hasdrubal is another Carthaginian leader; Metaurus was a battle that took place in 207 B.C., nine years after Cannae.) Here Hanson is offering a hypothetical and comparing the strategic levels of war by talking about the Carthaginian political leadership vice that of the Romans.
After Hasdrubal’s catastrophic setback at the Metaurus, there was no likelihood that the Carthaginian Assembly, as Rome had done after the far worse slaughter at Cannae, would have ordered a general muster of all its able-bodied citizenry — a real nation in arms arising to crush the hated resurgent legions. (pg. 9)
Now, from that sentence one gets the impression that after the battle of Cannae, the Romans did, in fact, arise as a “real nation in arms” and that they subsequently immediately sought battle and then “crushed” the Carthaginian army under Hannibal, right?
Wrong. Though Hanson makes only one slight mention of it, the fact is that Hannibal stayed in Italy for the next 14 years. He stayed on Roman soil, moving with near impunity, year after year. How could Hannibal do that?
Well, completely contrary to Hanson’s thesis about how Western armies seek battle, hold ground, and strive for short and sharp shock conflicts, the reality was that the Romans, for the next 14 years, deliberately avoided shock and pitched battles with Hannibal. (Remember these Hanson lines? “All armies engage in mass confrontations at times; few prefer to do so in horrendous collisions of shock and eschew fighting at a distance or through stealth when there is at least the opportunity for decisive battle…” and “Foot soldiers are common in every culture, but infantrymen, fighting en masse, who take and hold ground and fight face-to-face, are a uniquely Western specialty…” (pg. 445))
What the Romans actually did was exactly the opposite of the Hanson thesis. They broke up their armies into smaller forces and harassed Hannibal indirectly. They gave ground, regularly, and lived to maneuver another day. They sought to wear him down, while preserving their own forces. They avoided pitched battles on any large scale. In short, they followed the direct advice of one of the other most famous generals of all time, one who is only mentioned by name a single time in the entire chapter (and then without noting his actions). That man was Quintus Fabius Maximus, called “Cunctator” (The Delayer), and it is from him that we have the term “Fabian Strategy,” which was so magnificently put into play by a fellow named George Washington a couple of millennia later.
[After Ticinus, Trebia, Trasimene, and Cannae — disastrous pitched battles which Roman commanders insisted on fighting despite problems in command and generalship (such was the pull of the Roman tradition to fight pitched battles even if unwise against a genius like Hannibal) — Roman manpower was exhausted, after losing perhaps 100,000 soldiers in battle.
The Roman Senate immediately sought to rebuild the legions often ex nihilo, and while that rebuilding process went forth, Fabius, to great criticism (Cunctator was originally a term of derision), once more convinced Romans that they should once again use their tenuous forces to delay Hannibal until the republic was able to go back on the offensive.
The famous phrase “unus homo nobis cunctando restituit rem” is revealing. Cunctando does mean “harassing” but rather “delaying,” in the larger sense, not just of avoiding Hannibal’s seasoned forces, but also delaying the Roman desire for pitched battle itself until Rome was in a position once more wisely to employ large trained legions under able commanders, which it did most brilliantly at the Metaurus and then Zama to end the war outright.
But more importantly Bateman is sorely mistaken about the absence of decisive battles in the Second Punic war, whether in Italy, Sicily, Spain, or Africa.
After Cannae, even at terrible aggregate losses, Roman forces in Italy and Sicily attacked and besieged Syracuse, Tarentum, Sagentum, fought several sea battles, and then once again fought and lost decisive battles at Silarus and Herdonia and then won a spectacular victory at the Metaurus.
Bateman appears unaware that very rarely has a war seen so many decisive battles in which tens of thousands perished in horrific encounters at sea, and in sieges, and in scores of costly direct engagements (not fought by Fabius) all over Italy and the Western Mediterranean almost every year of the conflict — at, for example, Asculum, Baecula, Baetis, Bagbrades, Beneventum, Cannae, Canusium, Capua, Cissa, Cornus, Croton, Dertosa, on the Ebro River, Grumentum, Herdonia, Metaurus, Nola, Numistro, Saguntum, Silarus, Suessula, Tarentum, Ticinus, Lake Trasimene, Trebia, Utica and Zama.]
How Hanson missed that extra 14-year part where the Romans avoided major pitched battles in Italy is curious.
Folks, this is just one chapter, and it was a chapter dealing with events within Hanson’s specialty. It gets worse from here.
[It should be clear now that there were plenty of pitched battles in which thousands died after Cannae — not mere skirmishes or ambushes — between 216 and 202, fought by generals other than Fabius, and not only in Italy, but in Spain, Sicily, and Africa as well. That is why I wrote: “For the next fourteen years Hannibal would experience a seesaw series of victories and defeats inside Italy…”
In short, Bateman seems completely unacquainted with the basic details of the Second Punic War; omits lengthy arguments made in the book about decisive battle, ancient freedom, slavery, and the nature of the Roman army before and after Cannae. He thinks historiographical reference in the text of the need of a military historian to concentrate on the details of fighting is an argument that war is defined only by decisive battle; and he ignores the central theme of the chapter under discussion about constitutional government that carefully explains how and why the Romans could lose initial decisive battles, regroup and delay, and then in a series of such encounters all over the Western Mediterranean defeat Hannibal through decisive battle.
I don’t think there is any need for Bateman to chest-thump further or to editorialize. Sadly his level of critique, the accuracy of its content, the manner in which it is written, and the use of pejoratives like “feces,” “pervert” and “devil”, simply do not reflect well on the conduct of an active military officer. Media Matters has not served him well, or he them.
I will write more briefly on future misrepresentations, since the point has been made now that the first two critiques were politically-driven, contracted-out journalism, and not intended to be serious historical examinations.]
©2007 Victor Davis Hanson